Judicial officers have over the past year faced a high risk of contracting Covid‑19 in their exchange with lawyers and litigants. Accordingly, measures were enforced around the world settle disputes with minimal physical interaction. In China and Switzerland this involved the effective use of digital technology.
China has operating a virtual court system in form of “smart courts” since long before the Covid-19 outbreak. The system was introduced in 2015 by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC). “Smart courts” represented a sensational development in the Chinese justice system. They have ushered in an era of high‑resolution dispute resolution where specialised internet courts with artificial intelligence tools adjudicate both civil and criminal proceedings. Three such internet courts, in Beijing, Guangzhou and Hangzhou, were established in 2017 and 2018. They digitalised their whole litigation procedure from filing and serving processes, down to the delivery of judgments and post-judgment matters including enforcement and appeals.
Following the Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020, the SPC directed courts at all levels to guide litigants to file cases and mediate disputes online. Judges were encouraged to make optimal use of online systems for litigation to ensure the dispensation of justice is not impeded. The SPC also encouraged the use of mobile micro-courts on the social media platform WeChat for internet-based trials.
In arbitration, China accelerated the trend towards complete digitisation. Back in March, the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission, held its first video conference hearings. Prior to this, the Shanghai Maritime Court had already moved certain proceedings to an online‑only basis. The China Council for the Promotion of International Trade has also used a virtual platform for dispute resolution.
Switzerland, likewise, has issued official guidance for virtual justice technologies. The Swiss Federal Council ensured that the Covid-19 Judiciary and Procedural Law was enacted on 20 April. This ordinance allows for court proceedings during the lockdown if courts maintain social distancing by means of videoconferencing. Trials in person were conducted only in strict compliance with federal social distancing rules. The same applies to civil proceedings.
In similar fashion, the Swiss Chambers’ Arbitration Institution announced that all applications for emergency relief, notices of arbitration and other documents should be filed by email or courier.